To read more of Sharp’s Christmas Movie Smackdown, click here.
It’s easier for a Christmas movie to endear itself to you when you have a special connection to its star. Take for example, Miss Piggy from The Muppet Christmas Carol. I personally can’t write about that movie for this bracket, because it’s impossible for me to be unbiased. Miss Piggy and I go way back. She got me through some tough times as a grade schooler. Having that kind of history with a certain actor (or pig) is enough to build up some deep, indissoluble feelings.
Two guys whose onscreen personas invoke exactly those kinds of feelings? Tim Allen and Arnold Schwarzenegger. True, they usually fall on opposite ends of the character spectrum: Allen played the affable Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor on Home Improvement, while Schwarzenegger killed just about everything that could be killed in the 80s and 90s. But they’ve both built up equally strong sentiments among their fan bases. In fact, we’re willing bet that just about everyone reading this matchup has a case of the feels for at least one of the leading men involved.
But, remember, this bracket is about the overall films — not merely the actors in them.
In The Santa Clause, Allen’s character Scott Calvin (SC, get it?) is anointed the next Santa Claus after the current one falls off a roof. Cue dreamy scenes in the North Pole with elves, polar bears and general Christmas magic. Conflict arises when his proud son tells anyone who will listen about his dad’s new occupation and disbelieving adults deem Calvin a bad influence on his son. They are separated, and Santa is arrested. Order is restored when Calvin is proved to be the real Santa Claus and he rides his sleigh off into the night.
Jingle All The Way features Schwarzenegger — at possibly his most maniacal — as Howard Langston, a father attempting to find a Turbo-Man action figure for his son. Not only is the toy impossible to get (think Tickle Me Elmo in ‘96), but Langston also has to fight a scene-stealing Sinbad who has his own son to shop for. Toss in a horny Phil Hartman trying to schtupp Langston’s wife, and you’ve got yourself the makings of a stress-filled, antic-heavy situational holiday comedy.
Both films feature workaholic dads trying to instill some sense of faith in their sons. Each has to become a fictional character — Santa and Turbo-Man, respectively — in order to do so. But at the end of The Santa Clause, it’s the true meaning of Christmas —family, love, magic — that unites the Calvins. In Jingle All The Way, it’s the power of consumerism and an action figure that kind of sucks.
Sure, the story of Santa being persecuted by non-believers is old hat (Miracle on 34th Street, we hardly knew ye), but The Santa Clause’s light-hearted, jovial tone helps keep it feel fresh. The cherub-faced elves are cranky, Santa gets locked up, and his ex-wife’s meddling husband is a giant dweeb, but throughout it all, you know the spirit of Christmas will win everyone over. Santa will prevail. He has to.
There is no such guarantee with Jingle All The Way. Everything feels frantic and borderline insane. You constantly find yourself asking when, if ever, Langston will give up and just get his kid a damn baseball glove instead. Not to mention, if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet, the movie will likely give you heart palpitations.
In the end, what truly separates these two movies is what I mentioned earlier: a special connection to the star. Howard Langston is a faceless dad creating his own turbo-charged issues. But Santa Claus? We all know him, we all love him, and by God we want him to prove to the world that he’s real. The Santa Clause is heading to the next round — even if those jail scenes can’t help but remind us of Tim Allen’s mugshot.
The Winner: The Santa Clause